"What's it going to be then, eh?" - the opening line of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.
In the story, we are introduced to young Alex and his droogs, who like nothing more than "lashings of the old ultra-violence". It is Alex who commits their first murder, and after being betrayed for droog-related political reasons, is sent to jail. Through a new controversial rehabilitation treatment, designed to curb violence and sexual behaviour, the state uses our unlikely hero as their guinea pig. The experiment is a success (I use this word loosely), Alex begins to feel physically repulsed by violence of any sort, and as a side effect, also to Beethoven. He will not commit crime, but he has also deprived of the capacity to chose not to. This leads us to the central point of the novel, concerned with free will: Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived the choice between good and evil?
Burgess skilfully introduces us to his futuristic slang, or nadsat, making A Clockwork Orange valuable not only for the questions it raises, but also for its creative and experimental use of the English language in which we see hints of Russian.
This is no fluke. What perhaps makes the novel so good is that each word Burgess uses has been chosen intentionally.
Stanley Kubrick's film version is cannot be left unmentioned, it is, in fact, a masterpiece. Being very faithful to the text, its violent scenes still shock us 30 years on. But perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is that its ending is different to that of the book: chapter 21 is left out. I would agree with many critics in saying that this...